When a tree gets a bit too tall for your liking, your instinct may be to give it a quick and easy chop. Even though it’s not your intent to put the tree in danger, you could be doing so without realizing it.

Let’s break down what tree "topping" means, why people do it, and why you should not top trees.

Why You Shouldn’t Top a Tree – And the Better Alternative

What does topping a tree mean?

Tree topping is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when you cut the top of a tree off, which reduces the tree’s remaining top branches to stumps. As a result, your tree is left with weak, unstable limbs and a bare, unnatural appearance. Also, your tree is much more prone to breakage and may be a risk hazard.

Why do people top trees?

Here are the biggest reasons people choose to top trees. They want to:

  • Fix trees that interfere with electrical wires.

  • Shorten trees that grow too tall near their home.

  • Prevent the tall tree from coming down in a storm.

These are all good reasons to take action and care for your tree, but tree topping is not the way to do it.

How is topping harmful to trees?

Tree topping hurts trees in four, major ways.

  1. You remove lots of leaves, which decreases the tree's ability to photosynthesize and produce food.

  2. The wounds from the remaining shortened limbs become easy entry points for insects and pathogens.

  3. Trees respond to topping by quickly growing new limbs that are often too weak to handle storms.

  4. New branches eventually grow to the original height of the tree, perpetuating the unsafe cycle.

In the long-run, topping a tree can prove to be a costly mistake. The tree will either need extra care to stay alive or will eventually need to be removed.

Is there a good way to top trees? What’s an alternative to topping?

Yes, great question! When you prune a tree correctly, you reduce the tree’s height and keep it healthy! Ask your local arborist about proper structural pruning to safely shorten your tree.

And when planting a new tree, look up! Avoid planting under a tall structure or utility wires that the tree could interfere with when it reaches its mature height.

Watch this video to learn when you should prune your trees!

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